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I am a fan of two late Southern writers who, as it turns out, were lifelong friends: Shelby Foote and Walker Percy.
Actually, I had a correspondence with Shelby Foote about 30 years ago when I was young and seeking a mentor. We exchanged letters and spoke on the phone mostly about his writing and my music. We never met in person, as I lived in Eden Prairie and he in Memphis.
Foote was a novelist who between the years 1953 and 1973 wrote the three volume opus on the Civil War which his fame greatly rests upon. He brought a novelist’s eye and sensibility to history writing. Later even more fame came to him when he was featured in the Ken Burns Civil War documentary series.
His good friend Walker Percy was a medical doctor who came to novel writing quite late. He made up for lost time however and is highly regarded for his insightful novels that have a distinctive philosophical bent. He was a sort of existentialist Catholic which is an odd combination especially for an American Southerner.
I am re-reading “The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy” which is a great look into their relationship and also a rare glimpse into each of their creative endeavors. They constantly gave each other creative advice and encouragement through the years and their recommendations to each other in terms of books, art and music is a treasure.
One quote from a letter to Foote from Percy exactly captures a feeling about religion and God that resonates with me:
“My Catholicism consists just now and mainly in the deepest kind of hunch that it all works out, generally for the good, and everybody gets their deserts.”
I have been thinking a lot lately about why some music attracts my interest and other music does not. Then I thought about the music of two of my contemporaries who for reasons that will soon become obvious will remain nameless. Both of these contemporaries are solid technical musicians and prolific composers. They are also both very well known.
Musician One creates very ornate and highly technical music which in many ways is beyond reproach. Yet his music doesn’t reach me and I have repeatedly attempted to like it more. I respect it and it can be pleasant to listen to but it does not connect with me.
Musician Two also is also highly proficient and even more prolific but his music often reaches me on deep level and has on more than one occasion inspired me.
So why this difference I asked myself?
I then sought out interviews both written and on YouTube with these two composer/players.
Here is what became obvious. Musician One was arrogant, quite conceited and, for me, the tell tale sign of self-absorption was when he occasionally referred to himself in the third person.
Musician One also disparaged musicians who were not his equal.
On the other hand, Musician Two had a sweetness of character and was profuse in his praise of others. He had a humor about himself as well. This comes through in his music which is often touching and poignant as well as light and joyful without being the least bit trite. On the contrary.
Obviously this sweetness of character and humility appeal to me. I strive for these same qualities myself but far be it from me to judge myself. That is impossible. I think these qualities I hold in high esteem extends beyond music and to authors, painters, clergy and these days politicians as well. This is a simple enough comparison but I never quite broke it down to the basic elements before. I have learned something here.
I am looking for an earnest humanity in all endeavors.
Here endeth the sermon.
by reynold d. philipsek
For the past two years (while I was engaged with the filming and distribution of the “A Life Well Played” documentary), I was also busy putting together an album of what I could accurately call a true distillation of my musical oeuvre.
This entailed not only the development of new pieces, but the remodeling of older music that could benefit from a new approach.
This is that album. It has become clear to me that my personal taste is defined not only by my idiosyncrasies and melodic and harmonic predilections, but my desire for concision based on brevity and clarity. I am, I suppose, a sort of minimalist which probably explains my admiration for Anton Webern. The melodic and harmonic side of my nature is influenced by Ravel and Monk. This may not be readily apparent but it is, none the less, the case.
The liner note on the CD sleeve gives a fuller description of the overall concept.
As I have said before, “I have suffered for this music; now it’s your turn.”
Reynold (summer of 2017)
By reynold d. philipsek
I was busy whispering a detailed explanation of Schopenhauer’s Philosophy of the “Will” into the eager ear of a young lady in the backseat of my 56′ Ford when it happened. Believe me, it took quite a jolt to disengage my attention at that exact moment. After all, I was only 18 years old and my red corpuscles were pounding out four to a bar like Gene Krupa in overdrive. But even through the steamed-up windows it was clear to see. I was in love.
“What is that?” I shrieked as I jumped into the front seat and turned up the volume of the car radio. “Who is that guitar player? I love it.”
When the song ended the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) announcer proclaimed it was Jango Rinehart. I searched through the glove box to find a pen or pencil to jot down the name.
The very next day I piloted my Ford 70 miles due south to a section of Minneapolis known as Dinky Town to rummage through the record bins.
An indolent clerk peered up from his intense perusal of a catalog displaying every model and type of hookah known to civilization just long enough to correct me on the name with a condescending sneer. “The name is spelled like this,” he said, as he scrawled Django Reinhardt onto a coffee-stained napkin.
Armed with several Django records, I began my study of his fretwork. The music was a bit old-timey for my taste at that time and songs like “The Sheik of Araby” didn’t exactly turn my crank but the guitar playing was unlike anything I had ever heard.
There are watershed moments in every life and this was one for me. To say Django influenced my music would be complete understatement. I still listen to him daily and play his music every week. All these years later, I can’t even remember the girl’s name.